New Apostolic Church USA

A Life of Repentance

"What is Repentance?" from the Autumn 2018 Vision Newsletter

The Greek word for repentance is metanoeo, which means, “rethinking.” This evokes the idea of completely re-evaluating a matter, which then results in a change of one’s direction, condition, or behavior. Repentance is the act of being remorseful for what you have done, turning away from sin, and resolving not to return to that behavior.

In the pre-Reformation church, metanoeo was translated as “penance,” rather than repentance. Penance is an act of self-abasement or devotion performed to show sorrow or repentance for a sin. This interpretation implies that we are to pay retribution in some way in order to be in right standing with God. The concept of “penance” leads to the false understanding that when we do good works, we can attain some degree of righteousness before God; this is a dangerous path of thinking. Because of our sinful nature, there is nothing we can do to be worthy or righteous in God’s eyes. Only Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and His payment for our sins avails us of the grace to be righteous before God.

Yet, repentance comes with a certain amount of suffering; we feel the weight and pain of our sin. When we contemplate that Jesus carried the weight of our sin to the cross, we feel remorse. With the realization that every sin separates us further from God, we recognize the need for His grace and the necessity of repentance to receive forgiveness, so we repent and run back to Him.

In 2 Timothy 2:24-25, we read: …if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.

Therefore, we can appreciate repentance as a gift from God, which opens the way to forgiveness and a close relationship with Him. As we “rethink” and change our minds through repentance, we are led out of darkness, and, with God’s help, we allow the new nature of Jesus to unfold within us.

Repentance starts with awareness. Often, our sinful nature is not apparent to us. We must stop and take time, perhaps at the end of the day, to meditate, reflect, and examine our thoughts, words, and actions. It’s important to explore the underlying reasons for sinful words or actions. Maybe anger or bitterness causes us to speak or act in a way that is hurtful to others. Perhaps fear or doubt causes mistrust or jealousy, or envy leads to hostility, or selfishness creates apathy. We should compare ourselves to the example of Jesus in the Scriptures and notice where we do not align with His nature. Self-examining in this way permits space for God to enlighten us to our sin, so that we become mindful of the sin and its effects on those around us. Only by realizing how far away we actually are from God can we take the steps to move closer to Him.

We find two examples of this God-inspired assessment in Genesis. In chapter 3, after Adam and Eve sin, the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9), and then in chapter 4, when God asks Cain, “What have you done?” to call attention to the terrible deed that Cain, in his self-righteousness, could not recognize. As human beings, we are sinners and therefore enemies of God and His righteousness. We are perpetually sinful; alone, we cannot climb out of this condition. As He questioned Cain, God questions why we have rebelled and fought against Him. Why have we again allied ourselves to the evil one after our Father has continually approached us with love and compassion? It is an act of grace that He questions us, so that we can see the true perspective of our being and recognize that we are far from Him. God is waiting to forgive us, but we must first see our true state so that we understand our dependence on His grace. We are running in the wrong direction and we need to turn back.

The intended result of the awareness of our sin is remorsefulness. Once we come to this understanding, we suffer because the relationship with our God and Father has been disturbed. We sink down into the realization of our sinfulness and distance from God, as David did (2 Samuel 12). We are humbled because we realize that we deserve nothing. We deeply mourn our sinfulness as it is juxtaposed with God’s goodness and benevolence.

In this state of unrest and turbulence in our souls, we confess our sins to God. Confession is the natural progression as we come to the awareness of and remorsefulness for our sin. Apostle John wrote, If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). This confession does not just happen in the moments of the Lord’s Prayer in the divine service, but needs to be wrestled with daily in our prayers.

At our baptism or confirmation, we promised to renounce the evil one and surrender ourselves to the triune God. Remembrance of this promise inspires our resolution to keep fighting against sin. Our old nature resists this, but we fight on because we want the new life of Christ to emerge in us and extinguish the old nature that continually drives us away from the One we love. His love inspires a longing and willingness to change and evolve. Even though we may have resolved a hundred or thousand times before, we resolve once again because we know that God will not remember the sins He forgives.

As we experience God’s everlasting love for us through the gift of repentance and forgiveness, we come to understand His wish for us to also forgive others. If we want to be close to God, we cannot let pride or self-righteousness stand in our way. Jesus clearly stated in Matthew 6:14-15: For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Although we may have suffered an injustice or terrible offense from our brother, sister, or neighbor, we are resolved to journey down the path toward forgiveness and seek reconciliation. We realize that if God forgives our many sins against Him, then surely, we can strive to forgive the transgressions of others.

Joined with all of our brothers and sisters, with anxious hearts, we express our confessions, feelings, and resolutions to the almighty God, our Father, in the Lord’s Prayer. He, alone, is able to restore us and set us on the right path for His is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever!

With a deep longing, we wait for the comfort we find in the absolution. This is the assurance of God’s forgiveness and His willingness to always give us a fresh start by the merit of Christ’s sacrifice. This greeting of peace gives us the confidence that He will never forsake us, no matter how many times we fall. The words, “The peace of the Risen One be with you all,” are like balsam that washes over our troubled souls, and, released from sin, we rest securely in the assurance that the Lord loves and accepts us once again.

Martin Luther, in his 95 theses, said, "When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, 'Repent,' He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance."

The daily journey of realizing our sin and coming to repentance creates a tension in us because the old nature must be slain and supplanted by the new life of Christ. For this newness to grow, it is necessary for us to continually embrace God’s gift of repentance.

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